Secure attachment occurs when a caregiver is attentive to the needs of the baby. The parent recognizes the baby signals of hunger and other simple biological needs but also responds to emotional signals from the baby for attention, a cuddle or soothing after an upset, like falling down when learning to walk. It’s not necessary that every need be met, but that most of the time the baby has a growing sense that if she needs help, help will come.
Over the course of childhood this security allows the developing brain to build good connections between the prefrontal cortex (reasoning part of the brain) with the mid-brain structures; (which are involved in sensing emotions and their regulation, encoding of memory, achieving body awareness, and developing empathy).
Insecure attachment, characterized by caregiver neglect and/or outright abuse undermines normal brain development so much so that the child’s ability to regulate emotion, have a sense of their own body, free up the neural resources to lay down the kind of memory required for learning, and trust in the good will of others is seriously impaired.
A child with an insecure attachment history has a blueprint of relationships that may mix up the need for love and connection with feelings of fear and unease. So that in adulthood a person may find that abusive, dangerous or dismissing relationships seem predictable and normal.
It is very much the case that no one sets out to harm their child. Most people want to be good, responsive caregivers, however a history of neglect and abuse in a person’s past, without support for change, makes it more likely that they will have difficulty being attuned to their children. It is also important to see raising children as a social responsibility. Young families struggling with poverty, unsafe housing and few job prospects will face extra demands that make it difficult to be fully present with their children (Baer, et al., 2012).
Understanding the interconnectedness between relationships, the brain and the mind is important because it can help promote relationship by helping to identify qualities that will allow clients to “feel felt” and promote recovery and well-being.